Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Last blog sparked a minor chat in The Miller last night that I've interpreted as an undercurrent of feeling of 'is this the end of some groups working together?' since Tuesdays at The Miller have become chocablock with monthly nights and new shows I'm producing.
The short answer to this is.... No. The longer answer is Noooooooooo.
I find it really frustrating sometimes that the default reaction of the impro community occasionally seems to be to seek divides where there aren't any, politics when there is none, and basically seek the negative in the slightest movement. Without the ongoing work of people like Dylan Emery (Crunchy Frog), Jon Monkhouse (LondonImprov.co.uk), Jules Munns (SlapDash) and more and more and actually loads of people, we'd still be scattered all over the place competing for the same audience.
So instead here are some positive suggestions of how the improv community could work together.
- Form some solid groups and shows with unique selling points targetted at specific audiences in addition to the improv audience.
- Make them really good.
- Get some good reviews and gain exposure outside the improv world.
- Build up a solid ongoing audience, starting from friends and family and building from there.
- Keep adapting and improving the shows, and take it mainstream.
- Promote improv in general, in addition to your own show.
- Make connections with other groups and performers. If you feel yourself competing, connect.
Then take a look at what a full-time impro venue would need.....
Say if you had 2 days a week off or for private hire, and then 1 day a week as a regular open thing - jam, stand up, maestro, catch 22 etc.
That leaves 4 days a week of impro to programme, or roughly 16 days a month or so.
So if groups are performing once a month that means the venue would need just 16 impro shows that bring in an audience each time.
Obviously it would be more complicated than that, as there would be some shows being more frequent and some less so, some ad-hoc events and seasonal changes, but let's keep it simple and say....
All a dedicated London Improv Theatre needs to exist is 16 different improv shows capable of bringing in a new audience once a month.
Actually when I look around London I can see that already pretty much happening. In recent weeks there have been shows on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday at various places like The Miller and The Horse and all had great audiences. If you throw in Grand Theft Impro (Thursdays) and Comedy Store Players (Wednesdays and Sundays) you can see that the impro audience in London is actually quite large and lasts all week. Furthermore there are loads more shows that I haven't got round to looking up for this week, and that's just this week.
So in my opinion:
London actually already has an impro theatre and audience, it's just split across different venues. Let's call this the 'virtual venue'.
So let's continue to build this 'virtual theatre' and audience, and the ability to jump into an actual shared building would then be pretty straightforward, and incredibly empowering. I actually envisage multiple improv theatres in London, not just one. Similar to New York, Chicago and Toronto with IO, Second City, Bad Dog etc. I really don't see why not, it looks to me like it's already happening.
Furthermore London has a massive theatre audience, a massive comedy audience, a massive musical audience, a massive live music audience, a massive audience for everything really apart from improv. So let's start tapping into those audiences. Showstopper do that really successfully for musical theatre. Noise Next Door do that really successfully for stand up comedy. If different groups are tapping into different audiences then together the whole will be massive.
I already knew I was going to be busy with Edinburgh, and then starting new workshops and shows in Autumn, which is why I was sticking to running just one night a week at the moment. But now I've started twigging how close everything is I'm probably going to put aside some more time later in the year to start supporting it and going into it more, so look out!
Sunday, 24 July 2011
Just under a year ago I was at the Edinburgh Fringe, in a youth hostel, not performing but phoning up loads of impro groups I knew to book them in to The Black Horse. I’d just got to the point where I’d booked them all in, and put all the details on the website, when I phoned up The Black Horse only to be told...
“Sorry mate, we’ve gone bankrupt, we’re closing down next week”.
“Oh, were you going to tell me?”
So I was momentarily in panic. Everything was booked but it had nowhere to go. So I put together a list of all the other alternative London venues and started to phone them up one by one. The first one went like this...
“Hello The Miller. I’ve got a different impro group every Tuesday booked in advance for the next four months, do you want them?”
“Yes please. Who are you again?”
And with that the deed was done, and panic had turned to the best move ever.
Over the year I then found putting two groups together helped improvisers to mix, the audience to grow, and the scene to develop.
I then found that loads more groups had popped up, from different backgrounds and with different audiences, so it was a relatively easy jump to having impro there 2 nights a week.
However after while of that I found running and trying to get an audience twice a week meant all my time was taken up with admin and I was spending less time actually directing my own shows, what is what I wanted to do.
At the exact point I was wondering what to do Jon Monkhouse phoned up and said him and some other groups (8bit, Marbles) would like to run some monthly shows and were thinking of starting another night, did I know of a space. I immediately jumped at the chance and suggest they take over running Mondays with me helping more informally, which they went for immediately.
I was keen that it still had the spirit of different groups with different venues working together. Jon massively yes anded this and created a great website that lists all shows on all days.
As we go on we’ve been chatting about whether London Improv will grow into a listings website for all London improv shows, just Miller shows, or be for a london improv venue. A lot of this obviously depends on Jon and his time! We’ll be chatting about it once Edinburgh is over.
Thank you to everyone involved in making The Miller such a massive success over the year. Jon for teaming up with me, George (girlfriend) for listening, Secret Mark for his helpful feedback, everyone at The Miller for supporting it, The RH experience for making me and Jon feel young, everyone who has put together shows and acted in shows, everyone who has been coming to see stuff, the lovely audience, everyone who has helped out with front of house and everything there. Basically, there are loads of people there in fact I can't even imagine how many people have been involved. It's amazing, so thank you. My bedroom wall is covered in poster slips!
What I’m doing now
I’m aiming to build up some core shows with monthly followings, and I’m going to try and bring impro to a mainstream audience with various wider advertising and marketing in collaboration with The Miller. I'm also expanding into stand up nights, simply cos I enjoy it.
The main changes are a new monthly stand up night, monthly cabaret night, and new shows produced by Hoopla. This has left less space for guest groups than last season, although there are quite a lot of them and I’m still working with Jon from LondonImprov.co.uk to help put them on Wednesday, or with The Miller’s sister venue The Horse. Also as always I’m open to chatting to people about shows and venues and can help out in various ways.
Stand Up For The First Time (Tues 13th Sep, Tues 4th Oct, Tues 1st Nov, Tues 6th Dec)
This is a major change. This started up as an adhoc thing roughly once a season. Improvisers who had never done stand up did stand up for the first time. I really enjoyed and it seemed to go down really well with the audience too. I put a facebook shout out up about the next ones and had so much response from great people wanting to do it that I decided to take the plunge and make it once a month. I’m also inviting experienced stand ups to do it with new material. The new material rule is to encourage stand up to be braver and take bold leaps into the future and find something new, similar to the impro community spirit.
Although we’re mainly an impro company I’ve always enjoyed and admired stand up, and after doing it a couple of times I really enjoyed it and wanted to do more. I’m personally aiming to do a different 5 minute set every month for the challenge.
I’ve still got spaces so let me know if you’re interested in performing.
Also I’m keeping it free to the audience. I was orginally tempted to book some mainstream headline risks, but cant afford the risk and decided to keep it free and friendly and all about new stuff.
The Music Box Cabaret (Tues 20th Sept, Tues 18th Oct, Tues 15th Nov, Tues 20th Dec)
Music Box have been playing The Miller loads recently. I’ve taken it down to once a month though so we can put all efforts into just one Miller show a month and make it more brilliant. We’re going to be pulling out all the stops and I’ve booked in a range of mixed cabarat acts. These include some improv from groups that can do super short sets, and some really cool cabaret like East End Cabaret and Rayguns Look Real Enough.
This has also happened because Music Box are getting booked into various other venues, which is great.
The Adventures of Stefan Helgarberry (Tues 11th Oct, Tues 22nd Nov)
This is a new show I’ll be directing, it’s an improvised adventure told entirely in verse. All year I’ve been directing loads of Saturday workshops where lots of exciting new things have been coming up, but I havent been directing any shows so I had no where to put these things. The result is that this is the show with everything in it - verse, hero’s journey narrative, commedia characters, physical comedy etc. It’s one long tale rather than lots of isolate scenes. Slightly over ambitious, but it floats me boat.
Ninja Badgers (Tues 27th Nov, Tues 25th Oct, Tues 8th November, Tues 13th December)
Another new show I’ll be directing. It’s going to be new short form with brand new games every show.
I’ve never understood why improvisers feel the need to choose between longform or shortform - what’s wrong with doing the both? One helps the other, and both are helpful for different audiences and venues.
If anything though I think a lot of short form we do has got a bit stale, with the same safe games.
So rather than abandon short-form I’m going to try and bring in and invent new games and really keep it exciting.
There were a few guest groups booked in that had to be moved or replace once I changed to doing stand up and cabaret once a month.
Girl Band (Tuesday 15th Nov) and RH (Tuesday 20th Sept) are getting involved in cabaret cos I think they’re really suitable for being shorter slots surrounded by other acts.
Fat Kitten, Inflatables (Tues 11th October) and David Shore shows (December) are there too as I think it’s good to stay connected to groups from different backgrounds. It’s very rewarding to me to read on facebook that “so and so met so and so following an event”, and I think these constant new connections is what keeps things alive longer.
Austenatious (Tuesday 27th September) - I haven’t actually seen this but I’ve heard great things about it. Sometimes I find myself in the weird position of having to book shows in order to see them. Also it also features improvisers from different backgrounds that I think it’s good to connect to others.
The Maydays (Tuesday 25th October) - I’m keen to keep our brighton connection going, especially as it’s where I started improvising and also Music Box are going down there to perform a few times.
Do Not Adjust Your Stage (29th Nov) and The Faux Pas take up the remaining guest slots.
As you can see with the new shows, stand up, and cabaret, there weren't all that many slots free for guest groups.
If anything I wish I had more slots to book. It’s a shame that not all shows can happen in the same place, rather than being split across The Miller, Horse, Wheatsheaf etc. We did ask The Miller if they'd be up for more regular impro nights but they're keen to keep the mix of stand-up, impro and live music, which is understandable and I'd probably do the same if I ran the place. If anything it’s renewed my interesting in starting one big venue for everything, as it’s so close to being feasible. More about that later.
All show listings now at www.HooplaImpro.com